Research grant awarded to Medical School to study issues of mental health amongst medical professionals

The British Medical Association (BMA) has awarded a prestigious grant to a team at Swansea University Medical School whose specific focus is the study of medical professionals’ mental health and wellbeing.

The Joan Dawkins Research Grant, worth £50,000 will help fund research within Swansea University’s new Unit for the study of doctors’ and medical students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Research at the Unit is being led by Andrew Grant, Professor of Clinical Education at Swansea University Medical School.  Professor Grant said: “After five years in medical school newly qualified doctors undertake a further two years on-the-job Foundation Training,  gaining experience in up to six clinical specialisms before choosing the branch of medicine that will become their career.

“They often work long hours and, justifiably, much has been written about the risks posed to patients from tired and inexperienced staff. But what about the risks to the doctors themselves? And where do they turn when they can’t cope?”

Research has revealed that as many as 1 in 5 junior doctors experience stress related illness (Firth-Cozens and Harrison 2010).  Work at the new Unit at Swansea University Medical School will build on a study commissioned by the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2013 to look at similar problems for medical students which led to guidance being issued to all UK medical schools.

Professor Grant said: “This is a topic of great interest and importance as today’s trainees are the future of the NHS. The evidence shows that mental health issues in the medical professions are under-reported and often untreated which can lead to serious consequences. This research award will help to understand the scope of the problem and what can be done about it.”

Andrew Rix, an Occupational Psychologist who worked on the 2013 study by the GMC is one of the researchers within the new Unit.  He said: “We are very grateful to the BMA and the Joan Dawkins Trust for their support, not just for the new study but also for providing impetus for other work we are planning within the Unit.”

Dr Duncan Shrewsbury, an Academic GP trainee based in the Midlands, who has experience of mindfulness interventions in the support of doctors in training will also work in the Unit. He said: “I am very pleased that the wellbeing of doctors in training is being recognised as a serious topic for research, and am looking forward to systematically exploring this field to help improve the situation.”

The study, which will begin in September 2015 and will last for two years, will include an international data review; interviews with policy makers, doctor support organisations, focus groups with current foundation stage doctors and also case histories of doctors who have experienced episodes of mental ill health. The data will be used to show examples of good practice and ways of improving support services.